With every note, the auditorium fills with energy. The men onstage increase the beat, passionately channeling raw emotion through the instruments at their fingertips. As the lights begin to glow brighter, the woman at the microphone and the rest of the cast pour their hearts into the final rising notes of the song, “Welcome Home.”
As a tribute to the veterans of World War II, the premier performance of the “Bandstand” musical national tour took place last night in Rudder Auditorium with a special appearance by the Singing Cadets to honor the military through an opening song of “I’m Proud to Be An American.”
A second performance of “Bandstand” will occur Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Rudder Auditorium, giving Aggies one last chance to watch this story about World War II veterans and the battles they fought when they arrived back home. MSC OPAS Executive Director Anne Black was instrumental in getting A&M to be the first tour destination of this musical and is passionate about this show and its themes.
“I think the main message is love and forgiveness,” Black said. “I think it really hits on every level. My dad was a World War II veteran, so I’ve heard some of the stories of how difficult it was for them to come back, particularly the ones who had witnessed very extreme things.”
Through Tony-award-winning choreography and original music, the actors told the story of six World War II veterans who are trying to figure out how to deal with their new, bloody memories. One audience member, Marcus Salinas, felt like all the elements came together to really describe what veterans go through after the war.
“I really loved the production and the visuals, and the choreography was absolutely amazing actually, especially being really close to it,” Salinas said. “I think they did an amazing job definitely portraying what I think it was more of a play about people understanding what it was like for troops to come home.”
Each of the main actors plays an instrument live onstage, amplifying the mood and immersing the audience in the emotions portrayed through the story. Professional trumpet player Scott Bell performs as the character Nick Radel, a trumpet player who is a hot-headed music teacher after returning from the Pacific front.
“I think just of unity, of coming together for a greater cause that’s bigger than themselves, of not being taken advantage of,” Bell said. “I think we tap into each one of those emotions throughout each song. Not one song for me playing ever feels the same - one can be about love and romance, one can be about hardship and torment and one can be about excitement and being loose and just having a good time.”
Restager choreographer Marc Heitzman dedicated the performance to his grandfathers, one of whom survived Pearl Harbor, served on the U.S.S. Missouri, and was in attendance of the peace treaty between Japan and the Allied Powers. As dance captain in the original Broadway performance, Heitzman named his character after his Grandpa Jack and created his backstory around that history.
“I never got to meet him because he passed away when my mom was younger, but he’s always been a huge light in my life, and it’s incredible to hear the stories of the people that have connections to it,” Heitzman said. “Everybody has a connection because everybody was involved. Whether it was your grandfather or your grandmother, everybody was working toward one greater goal, and it’s been a beautiful thing to be able to dedicate the show to their memory.”
While the show at A&M ends tomorrow, the mission of the musical and the organizations that it help partnered with to research background information for the story, such as Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors and Got Your Six, lives on. Throughout the tour, Heitzman and the rest of the crew are dedicated to keeping the veterans’ stories alive and portraying the reality of their struggles on stage.
“When they first came home, for decades, nobody talked about it,” Heitzman said. “That’s told in our musical as well, but now that we’ve gotten further along since the war, people have started to open up. People want their stories told, but not everybody got that chance, so keeping organizations like that and forming them is a huge part of our history and we need to keep it going.”
Tickets can be purchased at http://opas.tamu.edu/bandstand.html for $30-$60. Veteran and student discounts are available as well at the MSC Box Office.